Monday, 21 August 2017

'Mapping Innovation' by Greg Satell - a very readable 'Playbook for navigating a disruptive age'

I've just read Greg Satell's new book 'Mapping Innovation'. It must be good because I took it on holiday to finish reading it! I'm a fan of his blog Digital Tonto, which I also recommend.

The book's title doesn't do it justice as it is full of innovation anecdotes, quotes, case-studies and practical advice. I was delighted to see that Satell talks extensively about diversity (in all its senses) in relation to innovation practice. In fact one chapter is entitled 'Innovation is Combination'. n order to innovate in the digital age organisations need to shift emphasis from knowledge workers to relationship workers'. 

Like almost every consultant, Satell frames his hypotheses using a 2x2 matrix. The Y axis is 'Problem Definition' . He emphasises the importance of a thorough understanding of the problem by quoting Einstein "If I had 20 days to solve a problem, I would spend 19 days defining it". The other axis is 'Domain Definition'; this is harder to define, but is primarily whether the organisation has the skills and capability to address the problem.
The examples of disruptive and breakthrough innovation reference the usual digital suspects including Google and Apple, but also draw on many from healthcare, finance and transportation. The Opensource movement and its implications for all sorts of contemporary collaborative models (eg Innocentive) that have followed is particularly interesting. I would have liked to have more examples of breakthrough innovation in organisational management, but maybe that's because there haven't been that many. Satell does describe AirBNB and Uber's disruptive business models, but even these are predicated on already well-established technology.

The most impactful take-away in 'Mapping Innovation' is the importance of Basic Research. In his 1945 report to President Truman, Vannevar Bush argued for what became the US Office of Scientific Research and Development (OSRD):

'Basic research leads to new knowledge. It provides scientific capital. It creates the fund from which the practical applications of new knowledge must be drawn'.

In the book we learn that both Google and Apple leaned heavily on the outputs from government-funded basic science that can be traced directly back to OSRD . Only giants such as IBM have the resources to carry out their own speculative research. Satell conspicuously avoids the elephant in the room by not addressing Trump and other western government's attacks on basic science funding and the implications for future downstream innovation. I am not sure whether he is deliberately avoiding taking a political stance, but if the author's premise is right about the importance of the bottom left quadrant of his matrix, innovation and economies will suffer in the long-term.

Meanwhile, individuals and organisations will focus on the other 3 quadrants and can learn a lot from this 'Playbook for navigating a disruptive age'. 

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